Mark Cunningham


The real estate agent explained that “repeatedly inundated” indicated “good drainage”—after all, it’s your point of view that makes the house half empty or half full. No man is an island, or so he learned when his boat sank. That it was called a “landskip” did nothing to increase our confidence in the painted panel’s topographical accuracy. The dictionary be damned: to choose “premiss” instead of “premise” is to be wrong from the start. The Made in Mexico stickers were made in China.


When they didn’t understand the directions for the connect-the-dot, she said, “Do you have to draw you a picture?” Everything can be considered “almost circular in outline” if you finish tracing the outline. Dear Carl Jung: there’s a part of the subconscious mind that recognizes every oldie played on the radio within the first five notes. I think of Mount Shasta every time I want a cheap soda.


She picked herself up by her shoelaces: the Nikes had cut off the circulation to her feet. The fork in the road turned out to be plastic. Shinkichi Takahasi found mountains and rivers inside a single potato; I found a notice reading “Copyright Monsanto.” When the clerk told him the oxygen prescription had expired, he threatened to hold his breath until he could talk to a manager.


Dear Oscar Wilde: nature imitates 1970s pornography more than 1970s pornography imitates nature: “thick, fluent tufts.” The biologist explained that “the ghost of spontaneous generation had to be laid.”


“You may have noticed that anyone who walks through a meadow in the sun appears greenish in the face.” Oxygen should not be exposed to an open flame. The sun is an open flame. I revealed “the fundamental difference between the human world and the earth” by having the nurse sign the cast on my arm. Many people go through life without ever having a pineapple sundae. Just taking the time to say that “expressing what exists is an endless task” has put us farther behind, so go away, okay?

Notes & Quotes:
The term “sort” comes from John Locke's “sorts of substances” with our understanding of each substance made of collections of ideas that are “supposed to flow from the particular internal constitution” of the substance (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding 2:23:2-3), and from FedEx’s “sort,” the twice daily receiving and routing of packages at airport hubs.

There are several quotations in the pieces. In the second piece, Shinkichi Takahashi is a Japanese poet who wrote a poem that goes “Inside of one potato / there are mountains and rivers” (tr. Harold Wright). In the third piece, the quotation about circular in outline is from A Natural History of Western Trees by Donald Culross Peattie (on the Vine Maple); Mount Shasta is a mountain in California, and Shasta is an inexpensive brand of soda. In the fourth piece, the quotation about tufts is from Peattie (on the Whitebark Pine) and the quotation about spontaneous generation is from “The Germination of the Idea of Biological Species” by Bentley Glass from the anthology Forerunners of Darwin, ed. by Glass, Owsei Temkin, and William L. Strauss, Jr. (this explanation is longer than the poem). In the fifth piece, the quotation about green in the face is from On Painting by Leon Battista Alberti, tr. John Spencer. The quotation about difference is from The Ethics of Earth Art by Amanda Boetzkes. And, finally, the quotation about expressing is from “Cezanne’s Doubt” by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Otoliths has put out two books by Mark Cunningham, 80 Beetles and Helicotremors. An e-book from BlazeVOX, 71 Leaves, is free to anyone curious enough to Google it.
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